57. In praise of arches

Our preformed brick arches arrive on site

14th January 2015

A simple semi-circular arch is a pleasing thing. Over a threshold, an arch reaches down, embracing the space below it, and invites you in. It is human-shaped - the arc of your head is acknowledged as you pass below - and so feels welcoming, unlike the triangular classical pediment, which says "this way in, but watch out, for here be gods",

There will be three brick arches at the front of the Orchard, one inside the other, inside the other. We took our cue from Deanery Gardens by Lutyens (photo courtesy of Country Life), where the curves of the arched threshold contrast with the strong square lines of the rest of the building, and open on to the wide curves of the garden. There is also a rather fine example at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, where Ford works. In this picture of it, you can see how the repeating, diminishing arches draw you in through the exposed skin of the building.

Like this example, our arches are made from 'red rubbers', a soft brick that is traditionally used for arches as it can be 'cut and rubbed' to exactly the right shape. However we are not relying on traditional bricklaying skills to get them in place, but rather on the skills of the brick cutters. These days arches are usually preformed on concrete lintels as this provides a more reliable, and stronger, result.

Our arches were made by Neal Brinsley and Doug Smith of Bricks 2 Size in Kent, who kindly took some photos along the way. First, the lintel is made by pouring concrete into formwork that has been set out to exactly the right shape. Then the bricks are cut so that they will follow the curve of the arch. Then they are cut again into 'pistols': an L-shape that allows them to be glued to the concrete lintel and completely disguise it.

The three arches are now on site, all wrapped up in cellophane. Another ton of lime mortar from Mike Wye has also arrived and we have stacks of our gorgeous Northcot bricks left to complete the job. All we need now is our brickies back. It's an exciting moment: creating the all-important threshold which hopefully will express our welcome: "come in, be happy, and enjoy the gifts of the earth".


  1. Amazing, again. I adore that arch, 'tis a wonderfully warm shape and colour.

  2. Can't wait to visit again